Amsel's Lost Art: America's Bicentennial!

It was almost six years ago when I interviewed the late Bob Esty in his home. Bob had a framed print of one of Richard Amsel's works -- a JC Leyendecker-inspired piece celebrating America's bicentennial. I had never seen it before, and was immediately intrigued. Esty's print was faded, torn, and yellowed, so I could only imagine how the original must have looked in its day.


Over the years, I tried tracking down this artwork with no success. I did get a photograph of Amsel's initial sketch, but the final painting itself was apparently lost to time.


Well...I was wrong. The artwork has been found, and despite the passing of 45 years, it still looks gorgeous.


Very special thanks to Richard Martin for these photos. Martin, who is a talented artist himself, discovered the painting on display at the American Legion office, in Metuchen, NJ. A longtime admirer of Amsel's work, he was "gobsmacked" by the find:


I've been a fan of Richard Amsel's ever since I became aware of his work while in High School in the mid-to-late 70s, looking forward to his latest TV Guide cover or movie poster coming out, while he was working. As I wanted to be, and ultimately did become, a professional illustrator myself, I was aware how his unique, prominent signature (much as Wilson McLean's or Norman Rockwell's) added to his branding, though I could recognize his work without it, and I saw some worked signed in a different manner than his large middle "S" logo.


I attended the School of Visual Arts in the early 80s and became an illustrator making a modest living over the years until the onslaught of computers and minuscule budgets made me morph my adjunct teaching gigs into a public school position with a pension and benefits. ...


Last weekend my wife and I set up her Avon table at a flea market sponsored by the local American Legion. I went into the hall to use the bathroom, and inside the vestibule they had some American Legion plaques, a flag and other items on display. One was an original oil on canvas, of the allegorical Columbia holding an American flag. It was clearly designed to emulate a J. C. Leyendecker Saturday Evening Post cover, and it was signed, "Amsel." I'd never seen it before, but I'm sure you can imagine the rush when I immediately realized what I was looking at. ( I told my students about discovering it the next day, but I know they thought I was crazy. My wife and you, I'm sure, understand.) ...


After talking with Richard over the phone -- two hours discussing Amsel, Leyendecker, Pyle, Parrish, Rockwell, Frazetta, Struzan, and his own career -- I then spoke with Commander Walter Zjawin, who shed a little light on the history of the bicentennial painting. It was bought at an auction in Washington, D.C., back in 1976, and gifted to the American Legion around 1980. Originally displayed above the Legion building's fireplace, it was relocated to their current facility in 1982.



Richard Martin wrote, "Pretty cool, huh? Bet you're excited, too."


Hell to the yes, Richard! And thank you once again.


UPDATE/CORRECTION 10/27/2021:


Commander Walter Zjawin added that the original buyer at the auction was Commander Joseph A. Olah. The painting was at the same American Legion site from 1976 until September 2015; it was built in 1932, but then they relocated due to the construction of an apartment complex.


Here are some additional photos Zjawin provided:








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